Mahabharata Stories: 16 – Digesting a Killer

All of us have experienced manipulation at some time or other in our lives. To many of us, these experiences are eye-openers but to many others, it is an inevitable fact of life itself. But, in common, nobody likes to be manipulated. Yet, there are those who innocently get caught in its web. There is no redemption for them, except by manipulation itself.

When the Pandavas were in exile, sage Lomasa visited them. On his advice, Yudhishtira greatly reduced the retinue that had loyally followed the Pandavas into the forest. Sage Lomasa then accompanied the Pandavas on a pilgrimage, narrating to them the importance of all the places and the great men associated with these. One of the greatest men ever, is sage Agastya, and Lomasa narrated the story of Agastya:

Once Agastya came across spirits hanging upside-down and asked of them the reason for it. They said: Agastya, we are your ancestors and we fear that you, having not married, may not beget an heir to perform the obsequies for us. We have vowed to stay like this until you should marry and beget an heir.

The king of Vidharbha was childless and came to sage Agastya seeking his blessings. Agastya blessed the king that he would beget a daughter endowed with great qualities and unparalleled beauty. To the pleased king, Agastya also stipulated that his daughter should be given to him in marriage when time was ripe.

Lopamudra, a fine scholar of immense beauty, was the prized possession of Vidharbha whom all the princes coveted, yet none dared approach for fear of Agastya. When Agastya came to ask the king for his daughter’s hand, the king was reluctant to give her in marriage to a man so progressed in age and who lived the life of a hermit. However, Lopamudra expressed her desire to marry the sage so vastly renowned for his wisdom and power. They were, hence married.

Lopamudra discarded her riches and royal robes and took on humble bark clothing and lived a life of contentment in the forest. In course of time, the two grew immensely in love with each another. But Lopamudra was shy of expressing herself in the open and asked Agastya to get her a fine dwelling place, royal robes and bedding.

Agastya went to many kings begging for money, but found that even the most prosperous of kingdoms had no balance in the treasury. Income was meant to meet expense and expense was always above income – this was the rule behind good governance.

There were two wicked Asura brothers by name Vilvala and Vatapi. They harboured an insatiable desire for human flesh. They were particularly hateful of the learned ones. Vilvala would invite an unsuspecting person to a meal. Vatapi would transform into a goat, which would be cooked and offered to the guest. The unsuspecting guest, at the end of the hospitality, would be ripped apart by the now complete Vatapi, and the two would make a feast of the flesh. They would also take all the valuables of their erstwhile guest. Thus they became rich.


Agastya happened to come by their dwelling and, as always, Vilvala invited him for a meal. Agastya was served with Vatapi’s meat. Vilvala waited for Vatapi to emerge from Agastya’s stomach, but he did not. He looked at Agastya and the latter, understanding the queer look on Vilvala’s face, told him that Vatapi had been digested in his stomach!

Vilvala bowed down to Agastya and offered to give him anything he may want. Agastya took the riches he required to satisfy his dear wife’s wish and went his way.

In due course, Lopamudra gave birth to a son to continue the learned family-line.


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